National Novel Writing Month: 7 things you need to prepare

how to prepare for National Novel Writing Month

If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, then you might recall from Saturday’s email that I have a big, scary project planned.

Well, here it is: I’m participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. Let the madness commence.

This is my first time participating in the quest to get 50,000 words of not-entirely-coherent story on the page during the month of November, and it goes without saying that the idea of the whole thing is a little intimidating—and also exhilarating.

In NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, there are generally two kinds of participants: the planner and the pantser. The pantser generally goes in without much more than an idea, some inspiration and a lot of motivation. The planner’s approach varies in intensity, ranging anywhere from a loose outline and some character sketches to a fully fleshed-out, all-but-written story.

Given that quitting halfway through November because I have no idea what I’m doing would be way too easy, I’ve decided to take the planner’s approach by taking notes, creating character backgrounds and generally trying to wrap my head around the story it is that I want to tell. I’m also arming myself with a few essentials to further increase my odds of success.

If you’re participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo—or if you’re on the fence—here are 7 things you need to prepare (whether you’re a planner or pantser):

A fresh notebook

My number-one must-have is a crisp new notebook in which I can jot down notes and ideas away from the computer. I often find that when I’m having a hard time letting the words flow on my laptop, switching to handwritten notes helps ideas come much easier.

I love a high-quality Moleskine, but my notebook doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy—a fresh composition notebook is just as exciting (and way cheaper). Large spiral-bound notebooks are the best for easily turning pages and lying the notebook flat. It’s also a good idea to keep a tiny notebook that you can throw in your bag for when you’re out and about and inspiration strikes.

A file folder or inspiration board

Have a dedicated folder for all the clips, quotes, photos and ideas that inspire your novel. Physical folders or binders are nice for having tactile inspiration to flip through, but digital files can be just as helpful (and easier to reorganize as needed). You can even create multiple Pinterest boards for your setting and characters.

I’ve also found that having a few favorite quotes on writing helps keep me grounded when self-doubt starts creeping in. Looking for some quotes to keep you motivated? I’ve started a NaNoWriMo 2015 Pinterest board of quotes you can borrow from here.

Related: 7 writers on writing & perfectionism

A calendar

November will pass by in a blur, so having a visual reminder of how much progress you’ve made and how much time you have left will be essential for staying on track. Keeping your Google calendar open in another tab will do the job just fine, but if you want the satisfaction of crossing off each day and updating your word count (you need about 1,667 words a day to hit the 50,000-word goal!), opt for a physical calendar you can write on. You can get a free printable NaNoWriMo word count calendar here.

NaNoWriMo prep

Tea and candle optional, but recommended.

A routine

A routine is the probably the most important thing you’ll need and the most difficult to maintain, especially if you’re in school or have a crazy work schedule. Come up with a writing routine before November rolls around so you can simply focus on getting words on the page. If your schedule makes it impossible to hit 1,667 words on certain days, don’t punish yourself or give up. Instead, write what you can on your busiest days—even if it’s just one page—and block longer periods of time during your off-days to make up the difference.

You might need to make some other adjustments to your lifestyle to keep your routine on track. For me, that means getting up and going to bed at the same time every day instead of when I feel like it. And since I work from home on the computer, I’ll need to separate my novel-writing time from my freelancing time so I don’t bounce back and forth mindlessly between the two.

Someone to keep you accountable

Attempting to write a novel in a month is kind of ridiculous when you think about it, and there will definitely be times when you want to bag it or let yourself be distracted by other things. An accountability partner can help you keep your eye on the prize. Whether it’s a friend, a parent or another NaNoWriMo participant, telling at least one other person who you can trust to cheer you on can be the difference between giving up during week one and having a complete first draft on November 30th.

It’s also a good idea to tell your family or roommates about your plan. They might not understand why you’d take on such a masochistic task, but hopefully they’ll support you regardless and know when to leave you alone.

A playlist

This one is mostly for fun, but it can also be incredibly helpful. If you enjoy writing to music, put together a playlist that gets you energized and focused. (Just try to avoid any songs you know all the words to and might be tempted to sing along with!) You can even create a soundtrack inspired by your book’s characters, plot and mood. If your novel takes place in a specific time period, use songs from that decade to put yourself there. Here’s my book’s playlist.

A distraction-free workplace

If you have a designated spot for drafting up your novel, keep the area clutter-free and someplace that you’ll enjoy working. You can stock it with fresh post-it notes or index cards, your favorite healthy snacks, tea, whatever—anything you find comforting or helpful.

If you don’t have a desk and are rotating between your couch and kitchen table,  just remember to take a moment to make your space comfortable and clean, keeping everything you need within arm’s reach. If you get sick of your workspace, head to the nearest public library!

Some other resources you might find helpful:

For writers 17 and younger, NaNoWriMo has a Young Writers Program which includes forums and resources specifically for you. (This might be a great place to find an accountability partner.)

If you want to outline your novel ahead of time but aren’t sure where to start, the Pre-Write Project from Kristen at She’s Novel is a workbook to help you do just that. It’s designed to complete in five days and costs $7. I haven’t used it myself, but I’ve heard good things!

And lastly, a kickass, comprehensive list of prewriting tools to help your novel take shape.


Are you participating in NaNoWriMo, or have you in the past? What are your must-haves?

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  1. I did the ol’ NaNoWriMo back in college with my roommates, one of whom was a fellow English major and could sympathize with the internal struggle between getting the words out and making them sound perfect. It was SO helpful to have accountability partners, especially since it sparked some friendly competition and actually made us more productive. Unfortunately, I was definitely not the “planner” type–and I’m pretty sure my unedited novel is still on my college laptop, wherever the hell that is. Best of luck to you!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Doing NaNoWriMo with your roommates would be so much fun! That sounds like the ideal accountability partner scenario. I bet it’d be so cool to go back and revisit your manuscript.

  2. I so deeply admire with people who can keep up with NaNoWriMo! I tried it once or twice in high school, but I’m too much of a control freak to focus on quantity over quality. Now that I write for a living, plus blogging as a hobby, writing even more on top of it seems totally out of the question, haha. I do love the idea of creating a playlist specifically for your story, though! I did that in college when I was working on my novel, and it worked like a charm.


    • Cassie Paton says:

      Glad to hear that worked for you! I had a lot of fun putting my playlist together, and it helped me imagine what scenes they might be in in the background. I’m like you in that focusing solely on quantity is… a real challenge. This should be interesting. 😉

  3. I’m going to try it again this year!

  4. Hey cool, I’m planning to join in for this this year, too! I’ve been wanting to try NaNoWriMo for years, but have always been too afraid to get started. So I’m just going to jump in! I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up with my work schedule, but at least I can say I tried, right?

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Woo-hoo, another one! That’s the right attitude to have. I’m not sure I’ll hit 50,000 words either, but even if I make a significant dent in the goal, it’s progress.

  5. I am so in awe of novel writers. I’ve toyed around with the idea of fiction quite a bit, but just have never found inspiration enough to tell an original story all my own. Maybe one day. I love your tips though, they’re great for diving into any large writing project. I’ve been meaning to get more consistent with posting etc. Maybe I’ll piggy-back on all the creativity in November and set up my own goals. Good luck on your NaNoWriMo! Can’t wait to hear how it goes.


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